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[Video shows a split screen interview between Dr Andy Wear and Kate Koch. Andy and Koch are shown on separate screens, both are seated in their own home office.]
Well, welcome to this leadership series edition on Leadership and Reconciliation. This week we are chatting with RMITs very own Chief Financial Officer Kate Koch. Kate, thanks so much for making the time.
I'd like to start by asking how your experiences, particularly in relation to understanding Indigenous self-determination and sovereignty, have changed your thinking and your leadership practice?
I actually think they have changed a fair bit during my time at RMIT, because of exactly that point around self-determination. I think I'm generally a fairly impatient person for things to happen. Um, you know, once we've agreed to do something, I want it in place, I want it working and move on. Like, I like new things. And I guess when I think about-- I mean, a real example at the moment is Treaty in Victoria. I do think we have a real chance of Treaty. And at times I get really impatient, you know, why aren't we having it now? But it will happen when it's meant to happen, and I've really had to learn to be patient about that. And just because it's a good thing, you know, doesn't mean that it's going to happen any more quickly or in the time frame I would like it to happen.
And I think that experience, for me-- and other actually improvements we are trying to make in the Indigenous Reconciliation and the Dhumbah Goorowa space, I'm applying that patience to other things in my team. So, people go through their journeys at different paces and there is a lot of change happening right now. And just having patience with people, if they are further behind or even further ahead on the journey than I am, it's been a really good learning lesson.
And I guess the second thing that is connected to that is listening. That really deep listening and trying to really, truly understand what people are telling you. Which isn't always overt. Sometimes it's-it's a secondary communication. So, it's been quite hard over Zoom and over this digital divide. But I think they are the two big things I would take away from what I've learned since I've been at RMIT.
Yes, patience is certainly-- feels like a real virtue at the moment. And like-- so people moving at multiple speeds and letting people travel at their own pace. Yeah, that's an incredibly strong point. When you first started at RMIT, were you aware of what reconciliation means to the organisation? And, I guess, if so, how did that affect your leadership style? And if not, what did you need to learn to be able to affect your leadership style?
My short answer is, no or not enough, I suspect, is really the answer. I've lived in total in the UK for almost 14 years. Though I left in the mid-90s when reconciliation was more nascent-- or actually, the real engagement of the 97 percent with reconciliation, was really nascent. So, I came back, and it was-- it felt to me like a huge step change in a good way. But I also felt very left behind and very uninformed.
And so, I knew reconciliation was important to RMIT. I do know our Chief Operating Officer Dionne Higgins from a former life and she, you know, was telling me her experience. And I must admit from that distance, it felt amazing, but it felt very foreign. And so, when I got here and we would start every gathering with an Acknowledgement of Country, we would do our, you know, off-site meetings every year on Country and really ground it. I think that first off-site on Country to me was really powerful and was a real changing point for my reconciliation journey. And just how important the connection to Country is. Not just for Aboriginal people now, I think increasingly, for the whole of Australia, which I think is a really good thing to bring us together and connect us.
But that I had to learn genuine acknowledgement, not just reading off a piece of paper. And I actually think that's one thing I've noticed. I've been here for three-- just over three years now. In the last three years, people's really genuine acknowledgements, relating it to personal experience or to other experiences has been really-- I just really enjoy hearing them now. It's not just reading off the script, it is, of course, acknowledging in the appropriate way. But the additional and the application to people's lives has been really great.
That's fantastic, yeah. I guess, the counter to that or alongside that is the number of highly visible social and political issues that we are presented with each day. And one of the most notable being the Black Lives Matter movement. What do these mean to you and what have they changed in your awareness of actions towards these issues?
Um, that's a good question. I think not projecting your experience as everyone's experience. And, you know, even within my own family, we don't have Aboriginality in our family, but we do have-- you know, my partner is from an African country. We've got kids that are sort of different colours, it's a very melting pot. But actually, interestingly, we were having a conversation at dinner a few nights ago about whether they'd experienced any discrimination, because my stepdaughter is very passionate about Black Lives Matter, she is quite dark skinned. And I hadn't realised the discrimination she had growing up in Melbourne, in a fairly middle-class suburb.
And so, I guess it opened my eyes to not being so self-centred, not projecting my experience, even on to my kids. And therefore, you know, trying to ask the right questions at the right time of people and their lived experience in life. And it's not about skin tone necessarily, it's about circumstances, it's about people's journey through life. But really, wanting to know and understand their experience and asking how you can support them. Not how you can fix it for them, but how you can support them, I think has been a big learning for me as well.
These are complex and challenging concepts and issues to grapple with. What's your advice to RMIT leaders who might just be beginning their journey as leaders in reconciliation?
My overwhelming feeling at RMIT is offer supporting your journey. There is a huge acknowledgement in the organisation that everyone is in a different part of their journey. And my example is my first experience on Country, really understanding it. It was about a year or two after my colleagues. And they were very patient with my reaction. They've been through it, but they didn't go, "ugh, here we go again". They were very supportive. They told me not to feel bad-- you know, bad, because I think there is a real sense of loss. Not in the same way that our Indigenous Australians probably have felt loss, but in terms of lost time. Like if only I'd known this earlier, I could have done more, you know, that kind of-- and you have to make peace with that. So, my advice to anyone starting at RMIT, be gentle on yourself. You will go through emotions as you go through your journey. You'll be mad at yourself, you'll be upset at yourself, you'll be disappointed you hadn't thought about stuff earlier. But the good news is you're thinking about it now.
Really appreciate your time and thoughts this morning, Kate. There is so much to consider about how we rethink leadership, and I think this will be an increasingly important perspective here at RMIT and beyond. So, thank you again and all the best in the year ahead.
Thanks Andy, you too.